Filmmaker turns camera on Sudan’s ‘Lost Boys’
September 26, 2006
Christopher Quinn always figured he would be involved, in one way or another, with humanitarian work. Growing up in Alexandria, Va., Quinn watched his father’s involvement in the community, especially in public housing. He took classes in African-American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and entered a graduate program in anthropological filmmaking.When Quinn began hearing about the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, the thousands of youths who fled the civil war in their home country for refugee camps in Kenya, he saw his opportunity to use film to make a difference. He was thinking not only of the Lost Boys, whose odyssey began in the late ’80s, but also of the more recent tragedies in other African countries torn apart by tribalism, politics and war.”It was in reaction to everything that took place in Rwanda and Sierra Leone,” said the 40-year-old Quinn, whose directorial debut, the documentary “God Grew Tired of Us,” shows at 5:30 p.m., today in the True Stories segment of Aspen Filmfest 2006. (The film also will screen at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.)
“I thought the Western media had ignored all the atrocities – especially in Sudan, where 2 million have been killed, and 4 million so far displaced.”I read about the Lost Boys in March 2001, and I knew I would do a documentary on them, their story, searching for safety for four years in the desert, then 10 years in the Kakuma refugee camp, on the border of Sudan.”Quinn, who had spent much of his career in England, working on hour-long programs for Granada Television, believed the story of the Lost Boys had a twist that could capture the attention of Americans. A group of the refugees was being resettled in the U.S. in 2001, giving a Western angle to the saga. Quinn began filming in the refugee camp in 2001, and he accompanied a trio of young Sudanese – John Dau, Daniel Abul Pach and Panther Bior – on their trans-Atlantic flight. Over the next four years, Quinn – when not raising money for the project – trailed his subjects as they settled into unfamiliar lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and Pittsburgh.
Quinn believes his film can do some good. He has already seen the power of the story, told through the film medium. “God Grew Tired of Us,” directed and produced by Quinn and narrated by Nicole Kidman, earned two top awards in its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Equally impressive was the gift to Dau at the premiere – a check for $25,000, which has helped fund the construction of a clinic in Sudan.”People had that immediate response,” said Quinn, who is also scheduled to attend tonight’s screening. “What we were hoping for is, if you put a human face to the conditions, you get people’s attention. People just extended themselves to the three subjects.”While Quinn’s thoughts in making “God Grew Tired of Us” were primarily on the victims of turmoil in Africa, he may also be doing some incidental good for Americans. Much of the praise for the film comes not only from the insight it gives into the three young men, but also into ways of living and thinking we take for granted. Through Pach and Bior, who were best friends in the refugee camp, and Dau, audiences look at big-picture concepts like racism and monogamy and more immediate needs such as running water.
“You get to see not only what they went through, but how they found their way in America and succeeded in some way,” Quinn said. “I didn’t expect them to do as well as they had. They’re great survivors.”A lot of people say it’s very much an American film. It turns an eye on how we live. The Dinkas are a very social group, and the American ideas are very unusual to them.”Quinn’s next project will turn the focus even tighter on America. Quinn’s “21 Up America” is an extension of British director Michael Apted’s “Up” series, which tracked the changes in the lives of a group of Brits over intervals of seven years. “21 Up America” will air as a feature-length film on the Discovery Channel.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org